A year ago, in writing about the 1st round of the ACC playoffs, against this same Louisville team, I headlined my game report: Meghan McCool Makes Louisville Her Bitches. Well, I could write the same about this regular season game. McCool struck twice, Louisville wilted, and Virginia won their 3rd straight game and moved into second place in the ACC.
Louisville came out, much like Notre Dame last weekend, determined to press Virginia in midfield and shorten the field by playing a high line. For the second straight game, the opposition’s plans worked well. For 20 minutes. The problem is that the game is 90 minutes, and even with a shorter bench at coach Steve Swanson’s disposal, Virginia is still deeper than any team not wearing sky blue. Louisville’s wonderfully gifted Emina Ekic looked like she was going to have a decisive say in the outcome of the game. Again, for 20 minutes. Tracking and chasing the ball along Virginia’s back line of Phoebe McClernon, Zoe Morse, Talia Staude and Courtney Petersen (with Taryn Torres thrown in for good measure) saps all the energy of the attacking line and the Cardinals were simply out of gas by the 35 minute mark. When one team is able to truly run the other team off the pitch, it is usually the result of midfield dominance. Not so with this Cavaliers team: it’s the defense (and Torres) that runs the other team.
For the record, Virginia now has not conceded a goal in 707 minutes and keeper Laurel Ivory’s goals against average is a minuscule 0.19 goals allowed/game. In now six of the last nine games, the defense has allowed fewer than 6 shots. Today Louisville recorded just two shots. The did get one off within the penalty box, but it was a pretty easy save by Ivory.
The game could have started off really poorly for Louisville as McClernon made a great through ball in the box to a wide open Anna Sumpter, who coolly slotted home the shot. Of course, Sumpter was so wide open because she was offsides, and Virginia would have to wait awhile for their first goal. It only took til the 22 minute mark for McCool to net her first goal, receiving the ball from Becca Jarrett who made a nice turn to the center of the pitch and made a picture perfect pass. It looked like the flood gates were about to burst open when Ordonez had what was surely a goal barely deflected away for a corner. Five minutes after Ordonez’ shot, Jarrett had a great chance, and in the waning moments of the half, Alyssa Gorzak took a fine shot. Everyone was getting in on the action, and this might have been Gorzak’s best game of the year.
After the break, Louisville came out renewed, and tried to take the game at the Cavs – they were down only one after all, and they had weathered something of a storm to stay within striking distance – and even Ivory was called upon to rush to the top of the box to deny an Ekic breakaway. Again, it took all Louisville could muster to even make the game competitive for 10 minutes. And they were doing it against Virginia’s second string as both Torres and Alexa Spaanstra were taking well-deserved breaks. Just two minutes after Torres and Jarrett re-entered the game and helped UVa retake control of the game, McCool hit her second, coming into the box at a trot to receive a nifty pass from Ordonez.
As the announcer was counting down the final seconds, Gorzak fed Sydney Zandi, and the hero of the Penn State win, who converted a nifty shot from close range to secure the final score. At least twice during the telecast the announcers stated that Virginia and Louisville have met six times since the Cardinals entered the ACC. Virginia’s won all six of them, but the announcers were especially conscientious to mention that all six were decided by a single goal. Zandi obviously got the memo because her goal was the fitting exclamation to a game that the Cavaliers won handily.
Up Next: Virginia has two games remaining to finish the regular season: home on Sunday to face the decidedly mid-table Boston College, and away next Thursday to bottom-feeding Syracuse. We’re currently tied with Florida State for second in the ACC – we’re not catching UNC – but because we own the head-head with FSU we should be able to claim the second seed for the ACC tourney.